Martin Luther King Day 2007 Dan Bosley
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today. This is always one of my favorite days as we come here every year to celebrate the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. As many of you know, I have had quite a time over this past few weeks. I want to thank all of those who have given me words of encouragement during this time and have shown me many acts of kindness and friendship. In the end, it was an easy choice to stay in a job that I love and enjoy. But the wellspring of kindness that people in and out of my district have shown me has been incredible and I thank you very much.
Whenever we go through something such as this, whenever we examine our lives, we wonder if people care. I should say that I am not down about returning to the best job one could ask for. Service to a community is a noble cause. And as my friend Margie Ware so aptly stated recently on her blog site, “a reminder that when the last client you talked to was someone battling leukemia and looking at a bone marrow transplant, life is a bit more complicated than whether or not you get to run for office.” But I know that we all have trouble in our lives, some great and some small. We all have times of stress or introspection. In those times we sometimes wonder if we can make a difference in this world or if anyone cares if we do. I believe we all make a difference. And do people care? I believe, no, I know they do. And on this day, we celebrate that caring. You see it is not only the great deeds of Reverend King that we should remember. It is not only his incredible acts of courage that we should remember. It is not just his ultimate sacrifice on April 4, 1968 that we should remember. But we must remember that he reminds us of our humanity and that there is much good in this world. This good must be embraced and celebrated whenever we are troubled by the dirty ways of men. That is what must sustain us and fill us with the spirit and inspiration to carry on the great work of Reverend King.
I know we don’t always believe in the good in mankind, especially some nights watching what goes on on the evening news. We sometimes wonder if the good deeds outweigh the evil in the world. I believe it does. At the end of the day, it is the good deeds that we remember with reverence of those who came before us. We remember the humanity of people such as Mother Teresa, who placed herself in squalor and spent a lifetime helping those in desperate need around her. We remember Mahatma Gandhi, whose message of nonviolence changed his nation. We revere the carpenter from Galilee whose life transfigured the world for billions of people. And we remember and celebrate the life of this gentle, but forceful minister from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. We embrace this knowledge that the good that these people and many others have given us betters the world, celebrates our humanity and the goodness therein. It reminds us of the one rule, the golden rule that every faith on this planet has embedded in its teachings: “Do unto others as ye would have them do unto you.” It’s a simple but powerful rule. And this simple but powerful preacher that we celebrate today reminded us of that power by changing laws, by changing attitudes, by moving a nation with his simple message. It is a message of peace. It is a message of equality. It is a message of economic justice. It is a message of hope and inspiration. And that message continues today through us, as we come here to remind ourselves of his life and his work.
Dr. King didn’t dwell on what was wrong, but went about setting it right. He looked forward, forward to what we could be because he had faith in humanity and in this nation. When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize (the youngest man to ever receive that award) in 1964, this is what he had to say:
“I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.”
Dr. King’s path was not easy nor was everyone with him. In the 60’s, there was little consensus on how to promote equality on a national level. Groups such as the NAACP, CORE, and Dr. Martin Luther King's SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), endorsed peaceful methods and believed change could be affected by working around the established system; other groups such as the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Nationalist Movement advocated retaliatory violence and a separation of the races. There were numerous marches, rallies, strikes, riots, and violent confrontations with the police. Today we know which was the righteous path as today; we celebrate the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. We do not celebrate the violence of those who chose another path, but the peaceful nonviolent simple eloquent words and deeds of the preacher from Montgomery, Alabama. That is what has endured.
At the time he gave his speeches, sermons, tended his church, and rallied others for freedom, this nation was in turmoil. Vietnam had split the nation in half. Civil rights were not a fact, but were, in fact, a lie to millions of Americans. Civil Rights activists were harassed and killed. There were no voting rights for millions of Americans and people were set against people. The 60’s were turbulent times for our nation and our people.
Today, thanks to the work of Reverend King, those civil rights activists, and others, many rights have been won. We have laws that mandate equal rights for all. The nation has passed laws guaranteeing the rights that our forefathers wrote into the Constitution that all men are created equal. For that we can be proud.
The old discriminatory Jim Crow laws were outlawed. And for that we can be proud.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 stated that discrimination in restaurants, hotels, and all other public places were outlawed. It barred discrimination at work. And for that we can be proud.
Everyone at last had the right to vote and there are no more separate water fountains for separate peoples. We have broken the color bar, and our schools are integrated. And for that we can be proud.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also insured that government would cut off funds for any activity that was deemed to discriminate. Any activity! And for that we can be proud.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was aimed at ending discrimination in purchasing or renting housing. And for that we can be proud.
This past year, a book was published by the Berkshire Publishing Group titled “African American Heritage in the Upper Housatonic Valley”. It celebrated the role of African Americans in upper Connecticut and the Berkshires. We have an incredibly rich history with tremendous contributions from our African American citizens, some of them famous, some just our neighbors, but important all. And for that we can be incredibly proud.
And in Massachusetts, for only the second time in the history of this great nation, we have elected a man of color, an African American, (and a good man) as our leader in this state, Governor Deval Patrick. For that we can be proud.
Of course, with this progress comes great responsibility. We need to work constantly to ensure that we keep these freedoms. We must be ever vigilant and guard these rights and pass them to the next generation as the last has passed them on to us. More than that, we need to strive to further the work of such great men as Dr. King.
Because for all that has happened, we know we must not sit still for the work is still unfinished. We have miles to go before we reach the America that Dr. King envisioned and that is promised to us in our Constitution.
And there are still those who don’t want us all to go there. There are still people who would like to return to those days before the 60‘s. There are those who believe that there is a natural law that is survival of the fittest and that government should stay out of such areas. So we must continue our vigilance. There is still much work for us to do.
We know that passing laws that mandate equality doesn’t give us equality and passing laws to stop hate crimes doesn’t stop hate. There is still much work for us to do.
We are faced with great challenges today. We are engaged in another war that threatens once again to divide our nation. We need to make sure we do all we can to support the brave men and women who have been sent overseas by the leaders of this nation, but we must work just as hard to get those leaders to see that the best way to protect those brave men and women is to get them out of harm’s way by finding a way to end this war and get them home. There is still much work for us to do.
We are still faced with challenges at home every day. We see the division between the rich and poor growing wider. This is inequitable and threatens to divide this country. It breeds poverty and misery and violence in our neighborhoods. As Bruce Springsteen sang, you can still get killed just for living in your American Skin. There is still much work for us to do.
There are those who feel threatened by some people’s choice of who they love and partner with. We should not place discrimination in our Constitution. There is still much work for us to do.
There are those who are profiled today because of their ethnicity or their race. In a land of equal rights there are still some who are more equal than others and we need to address this. There is still much work for us to do.
And all of us have had rights taken away in the name of safety and security. Some people think that in order to maintain our freedom, we have to take those freedoms away! Regardless of their intentions to make us more secure, this is an erosion of the freedoms that this country was founded on. As long as people talk about eroding those rights, however small and for whatever reason, there is still much work to be done.
My friends, we live in troubled times. We still see violence against spouses, minorities, and our fellow man each night on the news. We still witness greed and war and division of class today. There is still much work for us to do
Should we despair that we still have so much to overcome? The fact that we are all here today answers with a resounding no. We cannot despair and celebrate the works and deeds of Reverend King. Look around us each day and despite the fact that there is still so much to do, there are people at work each day to make life better for those around them. I see it every day. As a state representative I see the many small things that are done by ordinary people on a daily basis to keep the spirit of Rev. King alive. It happens everywhere, everyday. You don’t have to be Reverend King or Mother Teresa to change the lives of others. Change comes when each of us together works to change the world around us each day in a small way. A smile as we pass by others on the street changes the world. A pat on the back or a kind word in times of need changes the world. Listening to others tell us their story changes the world. Learning about each other; our differences and our sameness changes the world. Each of us has the ability to change the world. How about Wesley Autrey? This was the man that jumped into the path of an ongoing subway train to save a man who had a seizure and fell onto the tracks. With no regard for his life, he jumped onto the tracks and held the man down while the train passed over them with inches to spare. He changes the world for someone somewhere who read the story of this act and has been inspired to help others. How about Kevin Sullivan? When he saw a tractor-trailer barreling towards a state trooper parked on the roadside, he immediately pulled his truck into the path of the oncoming tractor-trailer and was pushed over 200 feet, flipping over and going down an embankment. With no thought for his own life, he saved the life of that state trooper. He changed the world for that trooper and for all who have heard this story of sacrifice and selflessness. And these are the cases we heard about just this week. Those kindnesses happen time and again by people who hold the spirit of goodness and love for their fellow human beings in their hearts.
It takes courage to act like this. It takes a noble soul to act instantly instinctively with no regard for their own lives. I would suggest it takes even more courage to work day after day putting oneself up for criticism and personal harm as Reverend King did. Dr. King knew that his life was in danger. He knew his family was in danger. But he knew that to act differently and ignore the plight of his fellow man held a greater danger for humanity. So he acted. So he acted. Can we do any less?
So as these people have changed the world, Dr. King’s challenge to us is to find our ways to change our world. We cannot and must not let him down. In his “I have a dream” speech, he said, “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today my friends - so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” That must be our dream also. We need to dedicate ourselves to try everyday to make a small difference in the lives of those around us and together we can continue the work so nobly advanced by Dr. King. Let us rededicate ourselves today by pledging that we won’t just think of Dr. King on this day, but everyday with some gesture, great or small to help someone else.
Where do we go from here? Well, Reverend King gave a speech entitled just that in 1967. As I try to do every year, let me leave you with his words.
“And so we still have a long, long way to go before we reach the promised land of freedom. Yes, we have left the dusty soils of Egypt, and we have crossed a Red Sea that had for years been hardened by a long and piercing winter of massive resistance, but before we reach the majestic shores of the promised land, there will still be gigantic mountains of opposition ahead and prodigious hilltops of injustice. We still need some Paul Revere of conscience to alert every hamlet and every village of America that revolution is still at hand. Yes, we need a chart; we need a compass; indeed, we need some North Star to guide us into a future shrouded with impenetrable uncertainties.
And the other thing is, I'm concerned about a better world. I'm concerned about justice; I'm concerned about brotherhood; I'm concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can't establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.
And so, I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction.
Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.
Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.
Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.
Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.
Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.
Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. Let us be dissatisfied.
Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.
Let us be dissatisfied, and men will recognize that out of one blood, God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.
Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, "White Power!" when nobody will shout, "Black Power!" but everybody will talk about God's power and human power.
And I must confess, my friends, that the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. And there will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. …. But difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. And as we continue our charted course, we may gain consolation from the words so nobly left by that great black bard, who was also a great freedom fighter of yesterday, James Weldon Johnson:
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days
When hope unborn had died.
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place
For which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way
That with tears has been watered.
We have come treading our paths
Through the blood of the slaughtered.
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the bright gleam
Of our bright star is cast.
Let this affirmation be our ringing cry. It will give us the courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom.
Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: "Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again." Let us go out realizing that the Bible is right: "Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." This is our hope for the future, and with this faith we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow, with a cosmic past tense, "We have overcome! We have overcome! Deep in my heart, I did believe we would overcome."
Thank you and God Bless you all for being here today.